There's always arguments across many angles on what exactly Linux needs to succeed to become more mainstream and the answer, as we've long said, is pretty simple.
Hardware. Pre-installed. That's it.
Honestly, it really is that simple. There's a fair bit of that now already with the likes of System76, Slimbook, TUXEDO , Star Labs and others I'm forgetting. However, none of those are particularly known outside of Linux circles (TUXEDO claim otherwise). Even if they're slowly pulling in newer non-Linuxy customers, they're still tiny and often expensive. Other vendors like Dell and Lenovo may have a few but they're often harder to find. It's a bit like the old Linux gaming loop — people don't want to switch due to "no games" and developers don't want to support directly due to "no users". Vendors don't often do it because they don't perceive there to be enough interest.
Writing in a fresh blog post titled "What desktop Linux needs to succeed in the mainstream", KDE developer Nate Graham agrees and I couldn't have put it better if I tried:
People get hung up a lot on features and usability, and these are important. But they’re means to an end and not good enough ends by themselves. Quality means nothing if people can’t get it. And people can’t get it without accessible distribution. High quality Linux distros aren’t enough; they need to be pre-installed on hardware products you can buy in mainstream retail stores! “The mainstream” buys products they can touch and hold; if you can’t find it in a mainstream store, it doesn’t exist.
Creating good distributions and good applications with good gaming support is only one small piece of the puzzle. We're not just talking about people going into stores to look at laptops and desktops to try them out though. The bigger known online stores and vendors, we need them to start stocking and properly advertising Linux systems too. Not just that though, the systems need to look good and work well for the vendors themselves, to also be interested in stocking them.
Graham believes that KDE continues to be in a good position to serve their needs too, noting the belief that hardware vendors look for these points:
- Flexibility. Your software has to be easily adaptable to whatever kind of device they have without tons of custom engineering they’ll be on the hook for supporting over the product’s lifecycle.
- Features that make their devices look good. Support for its physical hardware characteristics, good performance, a pleasant-looking user interface… reasons for people to buy it, basically.
- Stability. Can’t crash and dump users at a command line terminal prompt. Has to actually work. Can’t feel like a hobbyist science fair project.
- Usability that’s to be good enough to minimize support costs. When something goes wrong, “the mainstream” contacts their hardware vendor. Usability needs to be good enough so that this happens as infrequently as possible.
For KDE specifically all this is slowly coming together with more products going for KDE and Plasma like Valve with the Steam Deck, Pine with the PinePhone / PineBook Pro, the KDE Slimbook and the Kubuntu Focus. The point remains though - bigger mainstream vendors are essential.
The biggest push may indeed come from the Steam Deck. A PC in a handheld form factor, that allows you to hook it up to a monitor for a full KDE Plasma desktop experience. Very exciting. If we see a lot of people enjoy it and the Steam Deck is a success, you can be almost guaranteed that more devices will come along and slap SteamOS 3 on it and then also have a KDE Plasma desktop available. The knock-on effect could be seen elsewhere, with more people wanting to use KDE Plasma and then hopefully more vendors and we may even see a loop there with it finally being picked up more often.